Saint Joseph & Mama D

This coming Thursday, after a two-year hiatus, there will be a grand Irish parade on the streets of Saint Paul to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. This event has a 55-year history in the Twin Cities.

However, before that, a little Italian woman from Minneapolis honored a different saint two days after St. Patrick’s Day. For 43 years, Giovanna D’Agostino—better known as Mama D—celebrated the lesser-known holiday of St. Joseph’s Day. She honored the patron saint of charity to the poor by serving free meals to the needy. On March 19, from the 1960s to the 1980s, she served them at her eldest son’s restaurant, Sammy D’s, located on the University of Minnesota campus. After opening her own restaurant—Mama D’s—she continued the annual tradition to serve as many as 3,500 people who would show up for the celebration.


But even when it wasn’t March, she invited homeless people into the restaurant for a cup of coffee, a plate of food, and a lecture. Her son said, “She would scold you and feed you and hug you and tell you she loved you. She made friends with everyone from all walks of life, from the little guy to the big guy.”


Mama D’s cookbooks made her a nationally known chef. She was written up in People magazine and appeared on television shows with hosts including Phil Donahue, Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore, and Regis Philbin. She became good friends with Tony Bennett when she cooked for his band when they played in the Twin Cities. In 2008, he gave Mama D a dozen long-stemmed roses when he passed through town. 


Mama D died on March 17, 2009, of heart failure. I don’t believe her heart ever failed. It just worked so hard it plainly wore out. Next Saturday, on St. Joseph’s Day, think of Mama D’s generosity to those in need. In celebration of that and St. Joseph’s Day, consider how you might help someone in need.


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